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  • Writer's pictureSafer Highways

MPs call for big road schemes to be axed

A cross-party committee of MPs has recommended that the government drop major new road construction projects and prioritise better maintenance of the existing network.

A report from the House of Commons transport committee today says “there has been a consistent theme of overly ambitious portfolio planning, and National Highways has overspent and underdelivered”.

Citing contentious projects such as the Stonehenge Tunnel and the Lower Thames Crossing, the MPs say that “schemes have been consistently pushed back”. The Department for Transport and National Highways should aim lower, the report says, and not try to take so much on in each of the road investment strategy (RIS) regulatory periods.

Instead, they should focus on maintenance and renewal.

The report, Strategic road investment, says: “The existing strategic road network (SRN) is ageing and requires significant renewal work in places, while many users want to see better day-to-day maintenance and upkeep of the network. Future investment should be focused on renewing older parts of the SRN and ensuring that resources are available to run the network in a way which better meets the needs of the drivers and industries that rely on it. The portfolios for RIS 3, RIS 4 and beyond should prioritise investment in the maintenance, renewal and resilience of existing assets over brand new projects.

“Providing the level of day-to-day running and upkeep that meets the needs of SRN users will require revenue funding alongside capital investment in more costly renewal and repair projects. The government must, therefore, make sufficient provision for both revenue and capital maintenance funds. This funding could be gained by cancelling complex, costly enhancement projects.”

It goes on to say: “There has been a consistent theme of overly ambitious portfolio planning, and National Highways has overspent and underdelivered. Despite delays in RIS 1, an even more ambitious portfolio was chosen for RIS 2. Schemes have been consistently pushed back into the following RIS portfolio, and some projects initially planned for RIS 3 (2025–30) have already been pushed back to RIS 4. Rather than the efficiency and certainty which road periods were meant to introduce, this has led to confusion and uncertainty. While current inflationary costs were unexpected, changes to the smart motorways programme and legal challenges to projects on environmental grounds could have been better anticipated given longstanding criticism.”

Anti-roadbuilding lobby group Transport Action Network, which was among 55 organisations that submitted evidence to the committee, welcomed the MPs’ report.

Its director, Chris Todd, said: “The committee’s call to consider ‘cancelling complex, costly enhancement projects’ to free up funding for filling potholes will be welcomed by the public, however they travel. This must include local authority roads, which are in a terrible condition.

"In a week that has seen roads in northern England under water, while those in the Med are on fire, it’s time to recognise the need for more funding to protect existing transport networks from runaway climate change. The moment has come to bring National Highway’s plans for a future of ever bigger roads down to earth.”

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